The Dilemma of the Pursuit of Christian Celebrity

I keep hearing the phrase "Christian Celebrity" and I don't quite know what to do with it. Be it CNN exposes on Christian pastors, reality tv shows, Instagram posts showing just "how awesome it was of that pastor to pray for that homeless man" or rock star preachers and their "smokin' hot wives", everywhere I turn there seems to be a rise of the Christian celebrity. In many ways it seems antithetical to a bible that constantly warns against creating idols and a gospel where Jesus speaks often of the importance of anonymity. At the same time in many ways Jesus was a celebrity in his own right. (Though, it was Jesus and it was clear that he couldn't really help it.) Another argument would be that, isn't our call as Christians to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth? If one can find mediums by which to spread it, then what harm can that do?

Still I can't help but to wrestle with the reality of Christian celebrity and what that means for the gospel message of duality in preserving the integrity of both the message and the messenger.

Watch out! Don't do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.
- Matthew 6:1

"When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them.- Matthew 6:5

"And when you fast, don't make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting.- Matthew 6:16

Jesus actually said these things. Did he mean it for some and not for others? How are we to contextualize these directives into our media and celebrity driven world? I really don't think we can exempt ourselves from Matthew Ch. 6. It is an apparently transcultural text that teaches us how to maintain the virtue of humility while on our spiritual journey's. The examples he gives are spiritual disciplines that are meant to be practiced in spite of our human difficulties.

How does the concept of Christian celebrity fit within that framework?

I honestly cannot answer that question. I can't say that I don't enjoy speaking to large crowds and having a moderate base of followers on my social networking pages. I haven't been tempted by the lures of fame so I cannot say how I would handle it. I am not in a position to judge as Matthew 7 further admonishes us. Rather, I wonder how we are to live and engage the world around us, be neighbors to our community and spread the gospel with the integrity of Matthew 6.

I personally know people who gauge God's movement in their life based on their ability to draw large crowds or how much personal publicity they receive. I'm not saying that those things are not evidence of God's blessings in their life. But, I find it problematic that this is becoming the measure by which we perceive progress. At the same time I'm not a hater. I think it's wonderful to hear how Christians are making their mark around the nation and our world. I just think it's a daunting, yet important task to shape and influence culture with a sense of righteous reserve. I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say, "It's not about us, it's about Jesus." But, is it really? A lot of times, it does come off to be about us and I'm wondering how we can find creative ways to influence culture and spread the gospel by intentionally lessening the focus on ourselves.

Not too long ago, The Today Show on NBC covered a story about an anonymous Instagram account called "Tips for Jesus." The person(s) behind the account visit various restaurants all throughout the U.S. and give the servers large tips and kind notes. On an article on the Today site, one person remaining anonymous said that the movement "did not have anything to do with religion but is instead focused on inspiring people to give back." Essentially this group of individuals was able to creatively use social media to spread the word and still remain anonymous. I wonder how those of us within Christian culture can creatively emulate such generosity. Not to say we have to remain completely anonymous with everything, but this practice is one that should be implemented into our lifestyles.

What's at stake when someone does not know that we were the one to donate?
What's at stake when we turn away from the large crowds and focus on the small?
What's at stake when we choose not to post our achievements?

In his book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Tim Keller says, ""the natural condition of the human ego: that it is empty, painful, busy and fragile." He goes on to say "A truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating person or a self-loving person, but a gospel-humble person. The truly gospel-humble person is a self-forgetful person whose ego is just like his or her toes. It just works. It does not draw attention to itself. The toes just work; the ego just works."

I'm not sure how the pursuit of Christian celebrity frees us to live out the necessary virtues we're called to enact in this world while delivering the pertinent gospel message. And while I have yet to see a true example of how this can be done, I wouldn't say it's impossible to do so either.